15 Mar

Sticking to a plan

Words by
Alex Fisher
Pictures by
Leon Schoots

Artists are often referred to as being talented, possessing sublime skills that are unique or rare.

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Artists are often referred to as being talented, possessing sublime skills that are unique or rare.

Talented artists are a thing of mystery to the mere creative amongst us, never mind those of us for whom paint is simply something that is difficult to remove from clothes in the wash.

But emerging Bendigo artist Prue Wilkinson would beg to differ and believes that successful artists are riding on the canvas of hard work, not a mythical gene pool of talent.

“No one is born with talent. The depiction of the tortured, talented artist is mostly a myth.

“In fact, the very concept of talent can be condescending to artists because it suggests that things come to us easily, which then implies we are not hard workers.

“Hard work can, in fact, lead to talent through constant honing of your craft. It’s definitely my hard work that won the Top Arts award,” Prue says.

Prue was recently awarded the People’s Choice award at the prestigious 2020 Top Arts exhibition, hosted by the National Gallery of Victoria. Her watercolour painting was selected from 1700 works submitted via the Victorian Curriculum Assessment Authority’s application process for the 2020 VCE Season of Excellence, with just 46 pieces of art selected for exhibition at the NGV.

Top Arts is an annual exhibition presenting exceptional work of VCE Art and VCE Studio Arts students undertaking the Victorian Certificate of Education, which Prue completed at Girton Grammar School in 2019.

Prue has no memory of life before art. It was her first love and has sustained her from a young age. She still has drawings from as early as age three. Prue recalls doing a watercolour of the school buildings in Grade 2 at Camp Hill Primary School. She looks back at that piece of art with a certain level of recognition and pride that it is a genuinely impressive effort for someone so young.

“I enjoy looking back on old artwork to acknowledge the hard work that was done.

“As an artist, you always compare yourself to other people because you want to be the best that you can be, but I think being a successful artist is about loving what you do and striving for constant improvement. That means reflecting on your previous work and thinking about how to improve it,” Prue says.

Every artist is used to being asked what inspires their work, and Prue shows her passion for her craft and her industry with a quick reply.

“I am a very emotional person. I find it difficult to express myself verbally, but I find that art is a voice for me and a way to express myself and express how others might feel.

“Art can trigger empathy and can be used to convey empathy, which is one of the reasons art is so important to our world, and especially right now.

“A world without art would be boring. Life would be filtered. Art is unfiltered and drives human passion.

“Art therapy in medical settings is evidence of the emotive and psychological responses that art can generate in people, and that is crucial to human existence.

“Money can sustain us physically, but we can’t live without emotional sustenance, too,” Prue says.

To win the Macquarie Group People’s Choice Award in the Top Arts competition, Prue used her own emotional response to a family member’s suffering caused by Alzheimer’s disease to convey the impact the condition can have on both the patient and their family. Her Year 12 Art theme was “Confinement”, which consisted of a series of three watercolour paintings. It was one of these, Cage of Confusion, that won the People’s Choice Award based on votes from visitors to the National Gallery of Victoria.

“At the start of Year 12 at Girton, my family was in the thick of dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. I wanted to learn more about the condition and be more involved in communicating the need to talk about it.

“I think people are fearful of Alzheimer’s because they don’t know about it, and there is a stigma associated with it.

“My sad observation, too, is that people suffering from diseases like cancer receive far more visitors than those who have Alzheimer’s and yet Alzheimer patients need just as much support and love as any other patient, perhaps even more so.

“In my painting, I emphasised the hands of Laurie, who is depicted, because hands are often the first thing to deteriorate in Alzheimer’s patients and our hands are integral to how we communicate, especially non-verbally. They sometimes turn blue as the disease progresses.

“The way I have painted Laurie’s hands indicates how scared and confined he was and how confined he felt in his own body.  

“The tilted and oversized depiction of Laurie’s head, along with the dripping watercolour, conveys the heaviness of the disease on the sufferer and their family,” Prue says.

Winning the popular vote in the art world is difficult and relies on the artist conveying something people can connect with. Prue says that Alzheimer’s is a confronting disease and, therefore, the confronting nature of her painting is something to which people can relate.

“Just about everyone knows someone who has Alzheimer’s or when they think about the disease, it instils a sense of fear.

“When art provides insight into our fears, it usually promotes a connection, so perhaps that is what happened for my painting to receive the People’s Choice Award,” she says.

It is clear that Prue’s life and career focus will always be art. She is adamant not to be locked into something that she does not love and is clear about not needing a “Plan B”.

“I think there is a link between the people who ask me what Plan B is, and the ones who assume I have talent.

“It’s important to know that talent can only get you so far, but hard work can sustain a career and a life. The more we measure happiness based on what we love, not what we can earn, the better off we will all be.

“It is utterly surreal to me that I have had a painting exhibited at the NGV, even though it was a specific goal of mine right from the start of VCE at Girton to be successful in the Top Arts competition.

“I’m on cloud nine, really, and I truly hope to keep drifting on it for some time yet.”